Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway Recap

in sports •  last year 

"What a day! What a race!" - Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch wins his first race at Phoenix since his 2005 rookie season to lead The Big Three into the championship finale at Homestead

It seems it was destined to end this way. Kyle Busch picked up his eighth victory of the season at Phoenix on Sunday to clinch his spot in the Cup Series Championship race in Miami next week. His fellow Big Three members Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick advance on points to join Busch and Joey Logano for the four-way shootout.

"I’d like to think it gives us a lot (of momentum), but I don’t know – talk is cheap," said Busch. "We’ve got to be able to go out there and perform and just do what we need to do. Being able to do what we did here today was certainly beneficial. I didn’t think we were the best car, but we survived and we did what we needed to do today. It’s just about getting to next week and once we were locked in, it was ‘all bets are off and it’s time to go."

Busch's win, the 51st of his career to move him into 11th place on the all-time wins list, ties him with Kevin Harvick for the 2018 Cup Series lead. It is his first victory at Phoenix since his rookie campaign in 2005.

The L1 penalty and subsequent punishments for Kevin Harvick after last week's race in Texas opened up three spots to be claimed in the championship race heading into Phoenix. Harvick was in grave danger of being left out and started the race like a man possessed. He led the first 73 laps before getting a flat tire. The flat forced him to pit under green and opened the door for playoff contender Chase Elliott to claim the checkered green for Stage One. The unplanned pit-stop put Harvick a lap down.

"That flat tire, just leading the stage there, coming to the white, and the tire goes flat," said Harvick. "That just put us behind and that was really the turning point in our day, to not have everything go right."

Harvick spent Stage Two trying to regain his lap while fellow playoff contenders Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott moved to the front of the field and swapped the lead with each other in an effort to gain crucial stage points. Clint Bowyer had to win to advance, but his day ended early when a flat tire forced him into the wall on Lap 133. He was knocked out of the race in 35th place and eliminated from the playoffs.

Kurt Busch was leading the race at the time of Bowyer's accident, but was penalized for passing the pace car before entering pit-road under caution, putting him a lap down. This allowed his brother Kyle Busch to take over the race lead and claim the checkered green for Stage Two.

Entering the final stage, Kyle Busch had scored enough points to advance to Homestead and Martin Truex Jr. was in a strong spot to advance as long as he avoided trouble. That left a three-way battle between Harvick, Elliott and Kurt Busch to secure a spot based on points with Aric Almirola still alive but needing to win.

The whole playoff scenario changed on a re-start on Lap 269. Kurt Busch was battling for the lead when Denny Hamlin made contact with him, forcing Busch into the wall. Busch's car bounced off the safety barrier and careened into the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott. Busch was unable to continue and finished in 32nd place. Elliott's crew was able to repair his car enough to return, but he lost three laps. The accident eliminated Busch and Elliott from playoff contention.

"Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip through the new (Turn) 1 and 2," said Busch. "If I could have been to somebody’s outside off two, then I thought we had a good shot of maintaining the lead and I just got cleaned out. I flat out got cleaned out. It was a really good year for our Haas Automation Ford. Thanks to Monster Energy and everybody that put their talent into that 41 car. I just didn’t get the job done to get us to Homestead."

Elliott was more succinct about his dashed championship dream.

"We will try again next year," said Elliott.

With Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott knocked out, Martin Truex Jr. was locked into the finale on points. Kevin Harvick had the points to claim the final spot, but a win by Almirola would eliminate him. Almirola started the final re-start of the race on Lap 301 in second place behind Kyle Busch, but didn't have enough horsepower to move into the lead. He faded over the last 12 laps of the race as Brad Keselowski moved forward to challenge Kyle Busch for the lead. In the end Keselowski didn't have the speed either as Busch raced across the finish line first to claim the checkered flag.

"It’s an awesome team and awesome group of guys," said Busch. "Can’t say enough about everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing—all the men and women there that work so hard to prepare such great race cars that I get to drive."

Keselowski finished runner-up while Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick round out the top-five. It was a valiant effort by Almirola, whose only hope of making the championship race was winning at Phoenix.

"I thought we were a seventh to sixth-place car and that’s what I thought we were yesterday too," said Almiorla. "(Crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) and all these guys fought their guts out and I fought my guts out inside the race car and gave it everything we had. We took a seventh or eighth-place car and the next thing you know we were in position to win the race. I’m just really thankful for this group and these guys on the Smithfield team are awesome."

William Byron finished in 9th place and clinched the Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.

"We haven’t had very good runs, to be honest, the whole year, but this run we kind of went a completely different direction with what we were doing and it seemed to pay off, and just kind of had a solid weekend other than qualifying," said Byron.

Click here for full race results.

Now that the third elimination round of the playoffs is complete, the final four contenders for the Monster Energy Cup Series Championship Race have been decided. Points are thrown out the window as Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick will compete in a winner-takes-all shootout at Homestead next week.

Busch, Harvick and Truex are all seeking their second career championship while Logano is hoping to become a first-time winner. Whoever comes out on top, it is sure to be an exciting race.

You can see the updated Driver's Playoff Points Standings here.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship winner will be determined in Miami next week with the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Photo credits: tequilamike CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Author: @chops316
Editor: @liberty-minded


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going to Homestead to race for a championship sounds very very good! I can't wait to see who goes home with the trophy!

It should be an exciting race. All four championship contenders have run well there in the past. Thanks for reading.

Who do you think will win?

That's the million dollar question. Truex, Busch and Harvick have all won on this track before. Logano hasn't but he's been finishing near the top the past few seasons. I think Harvick has been the best all season and I think he will win. However it wouldn't surprise me if any of the four win. I expect all four to be running at the front as the race winds down.